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Ethical rules for gift giving among government personnel

The Judge Advocate General's Corps

The Judge Advocate General's Corps

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Permanent change of station season is approaching and offices may ask for donations for going-away gifts for government employees and military members. Despite the desire to be gratuitous, you should be mindful that there are ethical rules and guidelines that must be followed when asking for donations in an office that has at least one subordinate.

Generally, employees are prohibited from giving or soliciting for a gift to another employee who is higher ranking, or accepting a gift from a lower-ranking employee; however, there are some exceptions.

One exception to the rule is if the superior-subordinate relationship is terminated; such as a retirement, separation, or PCS. Under the circumstance, employees may solicit a contribution for a group gift as long as the amount does not exceed $10 per person. An employee may contribute more than $10 if they so choose. Solicitations for contributions must be voluntary and solicited individuals may decline to contribute. If the solicitation includes a suggested dollar amount, the solicitation must include the following language (or words to this effect): "You are free to give less or nothing at all."

A group gift cannot exceed $300 if the group contains one or more subordinates. Different groups may not include the same persons. If at least one person donates to more than one giving group, the groups merge. Contractors are considered "prohibited sources" and are not permitted to be solicited, so when emailing or notifying the office of the collection, ensure that contractors are not included. Additionally, gifts may not be given to contractor employees.

In an effort to avoid common pitfalls we recommend that no one keeps a list of contributors; to avoid improper pressure, the collection should be handled by someone junior in the office so there is less pressure to donate. For additional guidance and questions concerning the solicitation or acceptance of gifts, contact the legal office at 321-494-7357.